Right or wrong, I entered the medical field because I had a knack for science. Learning the biology of disease came naturally to me so, becoming a physician or nurse practitioner seemed like the best path for my career. Throughout my nurse practitioner program, my interest in topics like pathophysiology and pharmacology was reinforced. Yes, medicine was for me. Then, it was time to start seeing patients.
I am an introvert, there’s no doubt about it. My friends and family would say the same. Unfortunately, no one had warned me about the social part of practicing medicine, you know, interacting with 30 or so patients every day. I found, and sometimes still find, the amount of conversation and social engagement required by my position as a nurse practitioner to be one of its most demanding aspects.
Working in the emergency department, forming long-term relationships with patients isn’t the norm. Yes, there are a few frequent fliers, but for the most part when I enter a patient’s room I immediately have to develop raport. I introduce myself, shake a few hands, and survey the situation. I ask questions about the patient’s medical condition and work to instill confidence on part of the patient and family. For an introvert, this can be tremendously draining. It’s the part of my job I can get burned out on.
While meeting hundreds of new faces a week can be exhausting, over the years I have developed a few strategies for helping my role as a nurse practitioner mesh with my personality. If you’re an introvert as well, keep these things in mind.
Distinguish between lack of confidence and your introverted tendencies
As a new nurse practitioner, I found talking with patients more difficult than I do today. A large part of the effort this required of me in my early days of practice was a result of my lack of confidence rather than my introversion. What if the patient asks me a question I don’t know the answer to? Surely, I can’t say I need to go look something up, right? What if the laceration is complex and my basic suturing skills won’t cut it? As you become more confident in your clinical skills, assurance in your workplace social interactions will follow.
The great thing about the conversations I have with patients is that they lend themselves to asking questions rather than forcing me to be the one to do the talking. Introverts tend to be good listeners so use your less gregarious personality to your advantage. You will likely find, if you haven’t already, that as a nurse practitioner you don’t have to do much of the actual talking in the patient interaction.
Plan what you’re going to say
Getting into a routine with how you conduct a patient visit will lead to the interaction requiring less effort. Get an introductory elevator-pitch down as to who you are and the role you will play in the patient’s care. Have a standard set of questions you ask patients with common presentations of illness. Develop explanations for procedures or pathologies of disease. As you get in the habit of doing these things, you will exert less energy figuring out what to say leaving you with more left in the tank at the end of the day.
If speaking in front of groups, even as small as a patient’s extended family, freaks you out then practice. Avoiding situations where you’re on the spot won’t help you get any better at managing your discomfort. If you’re a super-introvert or simply lack confidence, practice your patient interactions in front of the mirror or with a friend, coworker, or classmate. It sounds cheesy, but it works!
Write things down
Communicating by email isn’t typically an option for taking the stress out of patient visits, but when you find yourself facing a difficult conversation with an administrator or coworker, it may be. Write down your thoughts to help plan the conversation. Or, deal with the issue in writing. As an introvert, this allows you the added time for reflection you may need to communicate your thoughts effectively and completely.
Don’t get down on yourself
The temptation to think “I’m the wrong person for the job” when I’m exhausted from meeting 30 new patients in a day or when I feel timid addressing a large extended family about a health crisis is real. But, really, this is a chance to grow. Being introverted isn’t a character flaw. Turn uncomfortable situations into challenges. Allow them to help you grow not only professionally but personally as well. Turn the effort of meeting new people into a personal challenge. Put a positive spin on the experience. This is one situation where what you learn on the job just may benefit you at the next cocktail party you attend.
Get what you need
As an introvert, I require a little time to decompress at the end of a busy day. I tend to feel tired and a little overstimulated. Nothing that 15 minutes alone (and maybe a glass of wine) can’t fix. Take the time you need to recharge at the end (or beginning) of the day. Make time for the alone time you need. This might mean going on a walk, reading a few chapters of a book, or mindlessly chopping veggies for dinner. This way you will have the energy you need to tackle your next shift.
How does your personality as an introvert play into your role as a nurse practitioner?
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